Saturday, October 31, 2009

OK I admit it.

Don’t tell anyone this… but when I was a teenager I was very VERY into reading fantasy-genre-ed books. You know, the kind of books with incredible pictures on the cover (often including shiny stuff and semi-popup people), maps on the first 14 pages and of course every second character having an unpronounceable name, with bonus points for weird accents on letters.

I don’t know why I liked them so much. I got an early start when I was seven and I was presented with a copy of The Lord of the Rings. I could barely lift it with one hand. After using it to press flowers and keep the door open and block the space under my bed to avoid evil clowns from crawling in there, I read it about a year later and kind of enjoyed it. I liked the Hobbit better, and it was years before I figured out that my main problem with it was that I’d tried to read all 550 pages of the introduction. I was eight, I wanted swords and weird spells and people falling down cliffs*.  I also figured out the handy trick to reading it – if you see something formatted as song lyrics or poetry, skip three pages and you’ll be at the re-commencement of the actual storyline. Works like a charm!

Thinking back on it as I sat on a rock today, waiting for the drizzle to stop in the hope of a cold and miserable reptile emerging, I thought about al of the things that I like about it. I mean logically, living somewhere with no technology (as we would define it) has to be horrible. I can’t go for more than half an hour without checking my email (and that’s on a good day), plus people didn’t really do the whole showering thing often before the introduction of indoor plumbing. Speaking of indoor plumbing – I remember being in the world’s smallest town one December while hunting mole-rats and i needed a bathroom and there was a longdrop at the church and… I’m shuddering at the memory**. Imagine doing that all the time!

Not to mention my inner feminist freaking out at the way women were treated back in the day (although you can always pick a book where the girl saves the day – although she invariably had to dress up as a guy to get away with saving the world).

On the plus side there’s usually magic – a more substantial than the pick-a-card magic we get in the real world. Although that’s a bit unfair because there’s never a case where everyone has it – I guess otherwise it would be mundane and not worth writing a multi-part series on.

Would you like to live in a fantasy world? I get the feeling that it’s a good idea, but might be a little less fun in practise.

*kind of like my life now, but with added magic.

**in the desert there are no sizeable trees or bushes (unless you count the ones at the cemetery. Kind of disturbing how well the trees grow around the graves…).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Those poor farmers…

As a lot of people have been commenting on the strangeness of the people out here, i figured I’d provide a slightly more well-wounded view of what’s actually happening. You see, although life out here is a bit… odd… at times, as far as the locals are concerned they’ve been invaded by a crazy lizard-girl!

Exhibit A: i was trapping a long fissure along an outcrop, but the lizards were too smart and would evade the traps regularly. as it’s hectically long and I’d had to carry extra traps in preparation of trapping the whole thing I didn’t want to go home empty handed, so I watched where the lizards were going, hid behind some bushes, waited for one to emerge and jumped out yelling “AAAAAAAhhhhAAAAAAAhhhhAAAAAAhhhh” (Whitney Houston would have been impressed!).

Worked like a charm!

So I did it again, with a little more imagination and a few flourishes. of course right then generations 4-through-6 from next door happened to drive past. I had NO idea I was so close to the road! Of course they stopped to watch and I’d just caught a lizard so I couldn’t stop and chat, so I waved, yelled a “hello! I got him!” and ran off. I’m pretty sure the representative fro generation 4 shook his head as he drove off.

Exhibit B: I had spotted some rocks along the main road. I had no idea who the land belonged to, but I’d spoken to everyone in the area who was around and there was an excellent chance that it belonged to the same guy who owned the outcrop with the dam and the crocodiles.

It took me about twenty minutes to get up there (climbing sandstone-granite mix and dodging giant thorny vines while carrying trapping paraphernalia is always fun!) and trapping went well. All in all a good day! until I tried to go home.

The thing with climbing is that going up is usually easier than coming back down. Often if it’s not too far I’m happy to let gravity help but there are these vines that have massive thorns (they’re about the same width as pencils) and I didn’t really want to land on them, particularly with my very precious lizards in tow.

After about forty-five minutes I was halfway down when I slipped and sat down rather hard on a rather spiky rock. My pants (which I’d sewn back together any times by then) ripped and i just managed to stop falling further, although I was pretty sure the rock was going to leave a scar (it did).

A moment later someone drove past, stopped, got out of the car and said “Hello! Hoe gaan dit?”

I smiled, explained that I was working with lizards and he said “Oh! you’re lizard-girl! I’ve heard about you!” We proceeded to have a long conversation with me sitting on the spiky rock and wishing he would go away. When he asked if I needed help I declined, and pretended to be looking for chameleons in the foliage.

So you see, the farmers aren’t the weird ones! I’m sure I’ve provided many stories to keep them occupied!

The return of the mood-yoyo

This has been a tough week, hence the lack of blog posts. I have tons to write about so I hope to get back into the swing of things soon!

I’ve been swinging wildly from euphoria to misery all week, and its getting a bit unnerving. It all started on Sunday night when I got sick. But SICK. As in not even able to keep water down kind of sick. I had some paperwork to sort out in town, and fortunately it rained so I didn’t have to feel guilty for not trapping as I sat and somehow typed up progress reports for the permits office among other things and Leia yelled at me over G-talk because I hadn’t gone to the pharmacy yet.

Anyway, to cut a loOOng story short, I give you:


  • My permits are officially in order. It turns out that the guy in charge is amazingly nice if you call him ‘Ludwig’ rather than by his nickname (‘Blackie’)
  • Feeling much better and the weird medication-related dreams have stopped
  • I’m almost done catching lizards. I need a few more and then i can stop trapping and get started on Phase 2.
  • i thought some of my lizards were sick, but they seem to be OK (fingers crossed!), they’re certainly biting hard enough.
  • It’s been pouring with rain (I thought the house was going to flood) for he past 24 hours, and the power didn’t go off much. normally rain like this is a guarantee of at least a day without electricity.
  • This place is so beautiful. I was climbing yesterday and as I reached to top of the outcrop and I saw the panorama (that I’ve seen a million times and mostly ignore), the absolute hugeness of nothing hit me like it hasn’t ever before. I was listening to Keane at the time, which may explain it.

and Sadness:

  • I was sick…  which means I lost a day’s work which meant sitting up until 1am for two nights in a row catching up (the work isn’t that bad, it’s the procrastination between that’s the killer).
  • I’m missing Halloween AGAIN. I’ve never celebrated Halloween as I’m always busy or just not had plans. And now I get to hear about everyone else’s plans and it makes me sad.
  • I thought some of my lizards were sick. which led to a frantic checking of all of them at two in the morning followed by a sleepless night. They seem to be ok, but it wasn’t fun.
  • It’s been pouring with rain – hence no trapping even though the finish line is basically in sight. I have to finish this week to get back in time for my cousin’s wedding and the Killers! I also got to take measurements with flickering power – you have no idea how much fun it is to have a lizard on a treadmill when the power keeps going on and off.
  • An armed response guy got VERY lost and wound up here tonight. He then left and got his bakkie stuck and came to me for help. He also greeted me with “Waar’s jou man?” (i.e. where’s your husband?). I was annoyed and therefore refused to speak in Afrikaans. So he said “Can I speak to your husband?” I told him that my husband is a mercenary and I think he went to poach a rhino. Then I phoned one of the farmers next door and told them to sort this guy out, and sent him back to his bakkie to wait for the tractor. I feel bad for being so rude, but he started it!
  • This place is Just. So. Beautiful. And I can’t shake the feeling that once I leave there’ no coming back. It’ll never be Home again, even if I come to visit.

To finish it all off, I decided to wait out the worst of the storm by watching a movie, and as I’ve been a bit down I figured a kids movie might do the trick (I’m going to ignore how emotional “Meet the Robinsons” made me last time I tried this).

I should also know by now that any movie involving animals is a bad idea. and now I have the unfortunate distinction of having cried while watching ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua’ – I’m sorry but when the big German Shepherd get invited back to the police force…

So ja, the random stories will continue, maybe when it stops raining I’ll be back in storyteller mode!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I spent a great deal of time trapping on the farm of one of the parents of the ‘unfriendly’ couple. He has a huge dam, and I found that if I parked there, did a balancing-act across the dam wall (which isn’t all that scary, I could probably have walked normally) and then wriggled through some undergrowth and thorn trees I would end up on a string of nice big outcrops.

They weren’t really all that inaccessible, which was made evident by the piles of reed-type things that were always lying around drying in the sun.  I always presumed that they were being dried out in preparation of weaving something but I never saw anyone else there and so I went about my business as usual.

The lizards there are HUGE! My usual guys have a body length around 6-7.5 cm. The ones I got there were 8 cm at a minimum. It makes a difference! I learned pretty early on that they got to that big because they’re crafty. I’m talking trap-evasion as never seen before… where one string of traps usually works, and two definitely does, these guys would almost tap dance around three of four (and I could swear I heard them giggling).

One day I was trapping when someone started yelling something at me. I looked up and saw that I could see the road from where I was, and a woman was yelling something in some language I’d never heard before. I did the sensible response, smiling, waving and answering with “Hoe gaan dit?”

She left after a while and I carried on, only to have her materialise RIGHT behind me. Not usually all that alarming, but you must remember I hadn’t seen another human being in a good two weeks at that stage, personal space is entirely relative, and mine was HUGE.

After a few false starts we got talking, it turned out she and her family had come from Swaziland to find work (not an unusual scenario in the area) and she lived up the road, working on a bunch of farms in the area whenever they needed someone. It took a while to get this information because she spoke an odd mixture of Afrikaans, Zulu and Swazi. The farm workers generally speak some combination of a few languages, and most of them can manage enough Afrikaans for me to have a conversation with them, but this lady was a bit trickier than usual. She introduced herself as Jorana (“NOT Joanna! These silly farmers, they all call me Joanna and that’s not my name!”)

Of course trying to explain what I was doing was slightly trickier, she understood ‘catch’, ‘research’ and ‘the farmer said I could!’ but she battled to understand what I was catching. As I hadn’t caught anything yet that day I couldn’t exactly show her one either, so I ended up describing a lizard in great detail.

Suddenly her face lit up. “Ja! Ek het hulle gesien! Kom ek sal vir julle wys!” Well I’m not complaining if she can show me where they are, it might be the areas I’d already tried, but there might be a different outcrop of a pile of rocks I hasn’t noticed. I followed her a little way before I realised she was taking me back to the road. Strange, but Ok…

She stopped on the dam wall

“Daar’s hy!” huh? My lizards swim? I asked if she was sure and she went on and on about how you don’t always see them but they live in the water.

This brought back memories of looking for baboons for Luke’s project once, when some road-maintenance guys told us that the baboons hide underground in tunnels that they dig under the grass. I figured she was just superstitious or something, but when I asked she insisted that she saw them often. I asked if she was sure – small, green with orange tails… she shook her head. No, not pretty colours, but the akkedis, they’re in the water.

After much debate, even more descriptions from me and a trip back to the outcrop where mercifully a lizard (not one I wanted but at least it was a lizard) had emerged she suddenly figured it out.

“Oh! ‘n goggatjie! Jy’t gese ‘n akkedis!” Call me crazy, but generally lizard is ‘akkadis’ while ‘gogga’ means insect or general creepy crawly thing… finally she explained that the the people working the area, lizard was ‘gogga’ (something I’d heard before in the kalahari) and she’d thought I was talking about ngwenya (or crocodiles) hence the trip to the dam.

It was a very valuable lesson as I’ve learned that most people around here call my lizards goggas, and now I can say “het jy akedisse gesien? Gogga, nie ngwenya nie!” and they tend to follow what I’m going on about!

Before she left Jorana gave me directions to her house and told me that if I ever needed help I must go there and take her children as field assistants for the day.

Moral of the story: if you ever have to do fieldwork, take flashcards or something, it would make life easier.

And if you’re walking in the bush and someone yells “NGWENYA!” you should probably run.

Have a great week!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Brushes with beauty, death and Frank

The last few days have been the kind that I want to remember forever when I think back on the days that I’ve spent here over the last few years. They haven’t been the epic days of catching 12 lizards and scaling cliffs while carrying equipment, but they’ve been the standard, regular trapping days at their best.

I remember realising that I was going crazy the first time this happened. The scenario: it’s boiling, like 40 degrees in the shade kind of boiling (you know that saying ‘blistering hot’ they weren’t kidding!). you’ll have hiked miles to get to an outcrop and then spent hours chasing down lizards, often waiting for hours for a lizard to get caught while scouting the surrounding area at a sprint between trap checks. Most of the time the elusive lizard will not let itself be caught and the odd one that you spot while sprinting will jump onto a trap at the first opportunity, but superstition (removing traps means that you’re telling the universe that you don’t NEED the lizard and then you won’t see another one for days. It’s like sleeping in ensures a week of rain because you didn’t use a trapping opportunity) and the memories of the one time in 20 that you caught the bugger prevents removing the traps and moving on.

You’re exhausted, sweaty, kind of dizzy from sweating so much and drinking tons of (rather warm) water, coated in glue, dirt, blood and insects buzzing into your nose and ears and mouth at any opportunity.

And you realise: Hey, this is awesome. I was totally meant to do this! 

Yip, I’m nuts. But I’m happy!

The last week has also been a great one for close encounters with ‘nature’ – I’ve chased baboons from the house and giraffe from my study sites (not too unusual in itself), found massive shed snake ski around the rocks where I’ve been trapping, been caught up in a mongoose stampede (I actually accidentally caught one but he managed to get away, to great relief on both sides!). I’ve walked next to kudu, impala, reedbuck and all the regulars around here. they still freak out when they see me, but it’s been good to see them.

And as I walked to a site yesterday (it’s quicker to walk than to drive, although the walk home isn’t fun at all as it’s all uphill in full sun) through an area of quite soft sandy soil and I saw leopard spoor all over the place! Leopards have quite big feet.

This week was also the return of Frank – the snake that lived behind the kitchen cupboard during one of my trips here. I though he’d died (there was a weird smell) but i saw him running around outside on the patio. I still have no idea what he is, but he seems to be ok with staying out of the house (for now at least).

As for brushes with death: well as a good Joburg-girl, I always shake my shoes out in the mornings, check my bed before I get into it and never sit with my feet dangling over the edge of my bed (OK the last one is more to do with a fear of being grabbed).

But nothing prepared me for finding a Parktown Prawn while I was brushing my teeth this morning. I actually screeched.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The continuing adventures of Lizard-Girl: part 2

I began trapping and measuring lizards but the numbers weren’t great and i needed a few sites nearby for afternoon trapping – nothing major, just a few extras to boost numbers. So one afternoon i drove around looking for rocks.

i stopped at Arends-nes holidays first, which is a tiny little house (I’m not sure where they put the guests) made remarkable only by the giant disintegrating bulldozers next to the front door. I figured I could start there and so I stopped the car and got out, only to be knocked over by the biggest dog I’ve ever seen! He was very sweet, but had giant growths all over his head and so I wasn’t quite as friendly to him as I may have been otherwise.

The kortbroek-bedecked owners were very polite as I stammered through the explanation of my project in Afrikaans for the first time and they agreed to let me trap on their property. Which is all of about 200 square metres. Thinking they might own some property nearby or around the house I asked if they could show me any rocks around there, and they got very excited and took me behind the house. Before I could worry too much about what exactly was going (and thanking La and CG and Joey back home for teaching me to understand rapid-fire Afrikaans) the owner very proudly gave me a tour of his rock garden. It was basically a flowerbed. and it was very pretty, but entirely devoid of any of my lizards. I thanked him and left him shaking his head in bemusement at the weird English girl…

It got better from there as I found some decent-looking outcrops and drove up the nearest driveway. There I parked by the pigsty and was greeted by a tiny dog and a small boy who ran off screaming for his father. His father was Malcolm, a lovely guy who grows and sells his own chili-mix (it’s delicious but somewhat lethal) as well as making a living off people hiking and camping on his land (it’s steep, so they’re welcome to hike, but they have to pay him if they want a ride back). He was a great source of information, giving me phone numbers for a lot of his neighbours, explaining which rocks belonged to the local dominee (and therefore I could probably get away with being there ‘by accident’ as long as the wife didn’t catch me) and which rocks belonged to the butcher (and horse farmer. Suspect?).

He was the first to look me up and down, say

“ Do you have a 4x4?” I pointed to the bakkie which is actualy pretty fantastic off-road and he nodded.

“Do you know how to use it?”

Of course! How could he think such a thing? Just because I’m a girl…I told him it was no problem. I had done a small amount of off-road driving in the past, and I’d always paid attention and asked questions as a passenger when other people drove, plus I knew that the car had an instruction manual in the glove compartment. To his credit Malcolm didn’t even twitch, he just gave me directions and sort of snuck a mini-lesson in there, by mentioning which 4x4 gears I should use at each section.

Oh. My. word. I’ve taken the bakkie over some pretty appalling ‘roads’ since then, but nothing compares to the tracks on his property. At one stage I was convinced that I was going to roll the car (I had two wheels on one boulder and two wheels on a different bolder, with a height difference of about a metre and a half between them. When I got to the end and had do drive back up it I think my fingers might have dented the steering wheel! I stopped around the corner from the house and took a break to stop myself from shaking before I drove back the rest of the way.

Malcolm greeted me with

“SO how did you find the road?”

“It was FINE! No problem!”

I never went trapping there again. My adrenal glands couldn’t take it! I go back to see Malcolm occasionally though, to get chili (my sister-in-law loves it) and to catch up on the local news. His son also collects snake skin as his father won’t let him keep pet snakes, so I keep an eye out for it when I’m in the field.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Because some kid was always ‘brave’ enough to pretend to eat one, and then it would crawl down his throat and the girls would run off screaming…

The adventures of the bathtub guy etc will continue tomorrow, as I have some work to finish tonight as well as a pressing question that must be asked! And must be asked now because I keep forgetting to ask it here!

I used to study with a girl from the US and we used to talk about being children in our respective countries and the things that she found strange in south africa. There were the usual – we have no IKEA, raspberry-flavoured things aren’t blue here, they’re red. we call things by different names, our MacDonalds can’t make a latte yet… and so on. And our Smarties and their Smarties are totally different! Oh, and you know when you were a kid and you filled some old tight with soil and grass seeds and stuck eyes on it so that the grass would grow out the top and look like hair? Well apparently she used to have them, but they bought a kit, rather than making them themselves…

Anyway, moving along before I go on for days, the thing that really freaked me out: apparently kids in other countries don’t keep pet silkworms.

She actually freaked out at the idea of raising caterpillars and earning about metamorphosis in a real life situation! And I freaked out at the idea of kids growing up without learning to care for a pet that was slightly simpler than a hamster (or is that dancer?) and spending hours tracking down mulberry leaves and counting cocoons… keeping their eggs in the fridge to prevent an early hatching, trading stripy for plain on the playground and generally wreaking havoc while caring desperately for he little guys…

so the big question: Did you have silkworms as a kid?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Bathtub guy and the Leafblower Lady. Part 1

Anyway I realised that I never explained the whole leafblower-farmers wife thing. And that must be rectified! Unfortunately I have so many things to write about the people here that I will have to do it in smaller segments. Here is part one!

To start off, I’m living on a ‘farm’ inside a conservancy, which is basically a collection of little farms. Some of them are traditional farm-farms where they grow grapes or macadamia nuts or cows* and some of them are more game-farmesque. I’m on the East side of the Conservancy (it’s 30 000 hectares in total. That’s pretty big I think) which is mostly inhabited by old families that have been there for generations. They don’t like dividing the land between children so basically as soon as a son gets old enough to help run the farm and get married his wife moves in with the family and things carry on as normal. Some of the wealthier farmers even build houses right next to their homes for the eldest son and his wife.

It’s not unusual to find five generations living on the same farm. That’s the tricky part for me, because it’s very difficult to figure out who to talk to when I’m asking permission to trap lizards on their property. I’m very careful in these areas because there aren’t always fences and I can get very confused as to who owns what. And these guys are not against whipping out a shotgun at a supposed intruder (or so I’ve heard). The trick is to figure out who the oldest male family member is and ask him for permission before asking the younger guys who actually run the place. Just because Oom Piet is 94 and hasn’t got a clue about what’s going on, he’s still in charge. The easiest way to find the one ‘in charge’ is to phone the house at around 4pm, when they’d be bringing the cows in. That way you’ll be sure to get one of the wives on the line and they can be most helpful!

They are very kind people in general, although I don’t think that too much has changed in the last few centuries. Sure the veldskoen are replaced by crocs, but the two-tone khaki and kortbroek, comb-in sock sporting farmers make me feel like I’ve stepped into a Herman Charles Bosman novel sometimes. One day one of them will break out the peach brandy and pull out a pipe…

Unfortunately as charming as the old way of life may seem, there are nasty aspects. I’m fortunate in that I’m white and I speak Afrikaans which immediately makes me ‘fit in’ a little bit. I also don’t speak to any of them in formal Afrikaans, I use ‘jy’ rather than ‘u’ to put me on their level (and because I’m not very good at formal Afrikaans). Their farm workers still call them ‘Baas’ and wives obey husbands and so on. When they meet me they tend to get a bit confused. What is a 20-something girl doing driving a bakkie and running round after lizards. Shouldn’t I be married by now? They tend to get around it by deciding that I’m just a weird-looking guy. I get smacked on the back, shaken hands with, told about the rugby… and the wives look really confused.

We were told at one stage to avoid a certain farm because the people there weren’t nice. I’d already had to chat to the local butcher (who is also a horse farmer) and someone who was convinced that I was after his rather mangy bull (it looked at me and I freaked out a bit) so I was rather afraid of that place. They have a lot of dogs too which isn’t unusual around here, but they were all vicious-looking.

Anyway after much  discussion with Malcolm, my favourite pig-farmer and local gossip, it became apparent that the people were not all that bad. What had happened was that two of the mega (like 6-generations at once) farming families had spent generations peacefully ignoring each other, until the daughter of one of them married the son of the other family. They weren’t banished entirely, but sent to live on a distant corner of a farm and nobody would speak to them.

Towards the outskirts of the Eastern half of the conservancy is a creepy ramshackle house. We’re not quite sure if it belongs to the people who live there or to their grandparents who own a lot of the land in that area. They run a weird stall-type thing that sells water features made out of broken pots. The weird part: they make the pots, then break them strategically and us them to make water-features.

The only people I’ve ever seen in or around the house are three or four youngish guys. If you go in they put you on their duct-taped couch, offer you French Toast and say things like “There are GIRLS in the conservancy?” (True story, fortunately it didn’t happen to me). When they get bored they take their shirts of and take turns driving up and down the a stretch of the highway on a tractor.

No you didn’t misread that.

That’s all for today, I have to be up early tomorrow!


*you buy those cow-hoof things from Pick & Pay and start them off on your windowsill in some damp cottonwool

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Once again, I’ve been IPODed

Not really, but I I played the IPod game when i first started this bog (a good 3+ years ago) and I like to redo it every now and then to see how my musical tastes have changed and generally have a good self-centred giggle at the deeper meanings I can find in just about anything.

I’m not having a fantastic day, for some reason loneliness really set in and I’m not feeling well and it’s raining and I just want a hot batch except that all I have here are showers and and and…

So it felt appropriate. You know the rules (if you’ve been anywhere near email in the last half-decade). IPod on shuffle and write down the name of each song next to each question. no cheating and skipping!

    • IF SOMEONE SAYS, “IS THIS OKAY” YOU SAY? Pressed in a Book (the Shins). I tend to say strange things, so I guess it’s not that out there! I like the line about the untied shoelaces of life…
      Ziwere (Oliver Mtukudzi). I like this kind of jazzish African music, although of course the no skipping rule left me scrambling for a translation… to find that apparently there are no English words to describe it. so I guess I’m… indescribable? Untranslate-able?
      Til Kingdom Come (Coldplay). So, commitment? I love this song, it was one of the few I could stand listening to when my proposal was due so I played it abouot a million times!
      Playing in the distance (Grand National). Fair enough!
      Bed of Lies (Matchbox 20). I guess ‘I’m marking it down to learning’ is a pretty good one!
      Just like you (three days grace) I could be mean and angry?
      Do What You Say (Benjamin Gate). Nice :)
      I will possess your heart (Death cab for Cutie). I’m kind of glad that I don’t really believe in the ‘best’ friend concept!
      We are all made of stars (Moby) “Can’t fight the future, can’t fight what I see”
    • WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY? Vicarious (Tool). I guess up until recently I was living for the people around me, rather than me. Although until recently Tool scared me as well!
      Gone Crazy (Marcy Playground)
    • WHAT DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU SEE THE PERSON YOU LIKE? I really eyes (Cranberries). Was this thing written by a teenager? The quiz, not the song.
      Bad weekend (Art Brut). Ouch.
      If it makes you happy (Sheryl Crow). I refuse to be a girl and start planning a wedding without being engaged first. But I quite like this song!
      Prism of Life (Engma).
      The Phantom of the Opera (Nightwish). Clearly all those discussions on the paranormal in the lab are coming back to haunt me…
      Blister in the sun (Violent Femmes). But i’ve already GOT blisters from the sun…
      Burnout (Sipho ‘hotstix’ Mabuse). No comment.
      I will not take these things for granted (Toad the wet Sprocket).
      The fix is in (OK Go) It’s all about getting lost and staying that way.
      Battery (Metallica)
      Suddenly everything has changed (Postal Service).
      Pain for Pleasure (SUM41) true…
      Sorrow (Gladiator soundtrack). Sad times.
      Rainy Day (Fools Garden). Apparently my IPod has more faith in my abilities than I do!
    • WHAT HURTS RIGHT NOW? Say Goodbye (Dave Matthews Band)

thanks for bearing with me! I refuse to tag people when we’ve all done this before, but if you feel like revisiting a classic (no pun intended) then feel free and please let me know if you do!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Do you come here often?

I’ve decided that rather than bemoan the fact that 10 gram lizards are infinitely smarter than me, I’m going to talk about the weird people in the world who somehow stumble across this blog. I don’t mean the regular readers (and you all rock!).

I mean people who have an inexplicable urge to Google:

  • is there anything to do with fish you don’t want anymore (as in Nemo, or leftover fish fingers?
  • lizard bonding feet (anyone care to explain this one?)
  • is there any particular hair salon in bloemfontein I can use (why? would most of them refuse to cut your hair?)
  • Laryngitis complete (the abridged version just wasn’t hurting enough)
  • itboom (again, care to explain?)
  • miss whiplash aka helen (I have a secret identity?)
  • tales of doom (fair enough)
  • lizards eating spaghetti (I thought they liked penne?)
  • m.e. eye and tongue
  • how many days out of a week do herpetologist work (well I’m on 7 right now, in case you didn’t figure it out).
  • better than ftv (why thank you!)
  • what are dangers if you don’t tie your shoelaces
  • lizards like to go in people’s ears (so i should make ear-shaped traps!)
  • do lizards tails move when falling off? yes/no

I hope that somewhere, somehow, you find the answers to your questions. And that you can dispose of the fish before they start to smell funky.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Who are you gonna be?

I didn’t post yesterday because I was not in a happy place. I was hot, I was tired, I’d had a bad day catching lizards, and managed to get fried in the process (SPF40? Yeah right!). Basically I had an ‘I want to go home!’ day, which is a stage I only really hit around week 12 of fieldwork this time last year (which lead to a really kind farmer’s wife who was terrified of lizards trying to chase them for me by using  a leaf-blower). On top of the sunstroke-befuddled homesickness was a terrible feeling of guilt. I love this (really, I do!) and as my last trip here every day that I don’t enjoy makes me feel really guilty for not appreciating this for when I end up behind a desk in the lab for the next few months.

On top of everything I’ve been battling with friends back home who aren’t doing well emotionally. It’s really hard to be so far away when I feel like I’m needed at home (and I know I’m not much of a hugger, but over messenger isn’t quite doing it lately!).

I also have the split-personality type response of feeling terrible sorry for unhappy friends, but also wanting to shake them and tell them to get on with it! I know that they’re unhappy (there are two of them, independently miserable too!), but a lot of it is fixable, if they would just get out of their comfort zones and stop hiding at home and do something!

It sounds harsh and makes me feel even guiltier, but I’m reaching the end of my patience. seriously, if you feel ugly then go out with the people who love you, play around with makeup, exercise and get out there a bit. it might even be fun! I’m a bad friend.

As always when I get lonely I spend some extra time with my Ipod and rediscover some of my music. The Concretes are topping the list for “semi-depressed and not wanting to listen to anything too happy or too sad” Maybe my “FIX IT!” attitude comes from Ben Lee’s ‘Whatever it is’ which I was listening to yesterday evening. I can’t find a video of it to embed, but the lyrics are:

Are you changing, are you changing, are you changing.
Do you know it, do you feel it, do you know it.
But you're waiting, why're you waiting, why're you waiting.
Just do it, whatever it is.

there are secrets, there are secrets, there are secrets.
there are places, there are places, you can go to
they might tell you, yeah they'll tell you, that you shouldn't
just do it, whatever it is, whatever it is,
just do it, whatever it is, whatever it is,
go do it, whatever it is, whatever it is,
just do it, whatever it is.

and you're dancing, and you're looking kinda crazy
and your arms, are making little circles
there are reasons, there are reasons, you can find out
so do it, whatever it is, whatever it is,
just do it, whatever it is, whatever it is,
go do it, whatever it is, whatever it is,
whatever it is, whatever it is.

it's so quiet, it's so quiet, it's so quiet
and you're dreaming, and you're dreaming, and you're dreaming
I turn to you and say - awake is the new sleep, awake is the new sleep
so wake up. And do it, whatever it is. Just do it, whatever it is.
'cause awake is the new sleep, awake is the new sleep
so wake up
wake up.
and do it. Whatever it is, whatever it is,
just do it, whatever it is, whatever it is,
go do it, whatever it is, whatever it is
just do it, whatever it is, whatever it is.

AARGH! I promised I would never post lyrics! I suggest listening to the song if you can find it though, it always makes me smile!

I also had this song on repeat today:

(yay! Back on track from the horrible world of lyric-dom!)

And I actually cooked tonight and I’m feeling much better for having a balanced selection of vegetables in me! I tend to forget to look after myself out here, but I figured I can’t be sunburned and not eat properly.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Be-wildebeest

What a fantastic day! seriously, I lost my caffeine tolerance over the last week, so my single cup (ok it was rather strong, and the plunger went funny so there were a lot of grounds in it) of coffee yesterday resulted in me twitching and having profound thoughts until about 4am… the worst part? I had coffee at like midday! Seriously!

And when my ipod decided that pretending that it didn’t need charging wasn’t working anymore I got to twitch along in silence, while mumbling the words to the collected works of the Parlotones. It was a new low. Seriously.

But this morning decided not to be mean and nasty and bright and sunny, and instead was cloudy enough to allow me an extra hour and a half of sleep. As my traps have gone far beyond ‘comfortably worn in’ to the realm of ‘gross and nasty and worn out’ I changed them for shiny new traps, as well as finishing the leftover coffee from yesterday. Eventually at about 10 I decided that I had had enough waiting around, and I figured although it was cloudy it might just be warm enough for the odd lizard to be out, particularly since it was such a wet and miserable weekend.

And it was pretty good! the sun came out in short bursts, which let me find a few lizards, and they were cold enough to take full advantage of the sun (and generally let me catch them!). By about 2:30 the wind was really starting to get ridiculous and was blowing my traps everywhere, not to mention that the lizards were under their rocks in the ‘bomb drill’ position (I can imagine if I want to!), so I headed home for the day. Right now I’m over the halfway mark for my minimum number of lizards I need, and over a third for the number I really want, and exactly halfway to the number in the middle that I will probably settle for n the end!

As it was nice and cold again I decided to take the opportunity to go for a run. It’s been too hot or too wet and I’ve been too lazy for the last few days, but I’ve also been watching my muscle tone vanish completely which is just depressing. So I walked up the driveway (when I say up, I mean UP, it’s about 1.5 km of upness) and ten ran along the road to the next-farm neighbour’s gate. By the time I’d got there I was totally finished (did I mention the driveway is really steep?) and then I realised the key difference between the treadmill and the real world: I had to walk back! And for some weird reason it was uphill the whole way. And it was far! I think it’s about 5km in total, but it felt much much further! I ran little bits because I got bored, and I was hot and tired, and eventually I got home and collapsed in the chair on the veranda eating carrots.

Because I could.

After that I started measuring lizards, but I stopped to have a tea-break and check my email, and wound up chatting on messenger with CG for about 2 hours. Of course whenever I speak to people I seem to turn into a cross between Oprah and a fortune-cookie. Maybe that’s why hermits always gave advice? There’s something kind of zennishness about the isolation and the time I have to think about things. As she is one of the key players in my social circle I also got to ask her all about my boy-troubles (which are very non-dramatic) and she had a very different perspective, which means that tomorrow i get to find a rock and sit and think through everything all over again.

Oh, and the person who invented cherry-lollipop flavour yoghurt deserves some kind of Nobel prize or something. It’s SO good!

And there’s a frog on my window (on the glass) eating all the moths and Christmas beetles and stuff. I will call him Victor, because he kind of looks like a Victor.

I’m still twitching slightly, but I’ve managed to stop bouncing around in my chair, so there’s even hope for some sleep tonight!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The soggy factor

It’s been raining for two days now. I wish I could say I was twitching to get back out there, but I’m kind of enjoying the being cold, getting to sleep in and spending way too much time watching tv shows on my laptop. I watched the first season of the Dollhouse in its entirety over the last few days (admittedly only 12 episodes but anyway), which gave me the WEIRDEST dreams!

I’ve been considering writing my dreams down lately because they are decidedly odd. I believe that dreams are where your subconscious sorts out things that you’re having issues with – I know if I’m fighting with someone or they confuse or upset me I will dream about them periodically until the issue is resolved. Maybe being away from everyone and everything and having the peace and quiet to think through a lot of buried issues means that they’re resurfacing in weird symbolic dreams now?

I need to stay motivated and get a lot of writing and data analysis done now that there are no distractions (unless you count the kudu camping in the garden and the return of the woodpecker…), but right now I’m having fun vegging a bit. don’t judge me!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Living in the oven

It is HOT here. I’m talking fry and egg just by thinking of going outside kind of hot. Yesterday it was 35 in the shade at 4pm (that’s about 90 degrees to you Fahrenheit people), which makes me shudder to think of the kind of temperatures I work in on nice exposed (and heat-reflecting) rocks in the heat of the day. Last night I couldn’t sleep because it was too hot, I didn’t even want coffee yesterday (and I REALLY miss my coffee) and the lizards are basically not even bothering to show their cute little faces because they might just fry. Seriously I saw a couple yesterday, all sitting under nice shady overhangs (and not my lizards of course).

Today was better (although hotter according to the thermometer) as there was a slight breeze and I picked a very exposed outcrop to work on so that I would get the full advantage of any wind. It also has some nice overhangs that I could set traps in the shade (the traps in the shade (Me? Clinging desperately to the rock face setting them…). In this heat there’s no way I can set traps in full sun unless I want baked lizard.

And what the heck is going on with the geckos? I thought the ones I keep catching are supposed to be nocturnal! And they bite.

I didn’t know what day it was today. I had to figure it out by counting the lizards I could remember trapping and then adding in a rainy day for Sunday.

There is an epic ant-invasion going on here. HUGE ants, that could carry off small children. They seem to be followed by some rather large but relatively harmless scorpions.

I saw impala today! I know it’s not exactly an aardwolf, but I’ve never seen them here before (not on this farm anyway). There’s a very cool Marshall eagle that I see every day as well, and the fish eagles are making their presence heard (there’s a dam on my next-farm neighbour’s property and I’ve seen them hanging out there).

I had to lie on the rocks to get a trap out that had slipped back too far for me to reach it without my doing some impressive tool-use demonstration with sticks. I wonder if the local baboons will start using sticks while foraging? The rocks were SO hot, I may have given myself a stomach-tan through my shirt… And I didn’t realise the small depression in the rock was full of sand, so I have one brown leg and one khaki leg! I also have a burned ring around m wrist, I think my watch (which is pretty loose) rubs off the sunblock. I’m sure if the farmers didn’t think I was crazy by now…

Before I left CG gave me some music to try out while I was here and it’s been very enlightening! I LOVE listening to other people’s music, it says a lot about them. Or does it? Am I seeing previously hidden depths, or am I reading into music that I may have heard before and associating my own emotions? Either way, while some of it is a bit too screamy-metal for my taste (I like epic-adventure metal, preferably sung by Scandinavians. People don’t seem to get the distinction), there’s some really interesting music as well as some surprisingly gentle stuff that has made me understand a lot of the thoughts I had about her that weren’t connecting properly! Do you think that music reveals a lot about people? It scares me to think of what the music I like might say about me.

As much as I hate Facebook, I’ve been using it a lot here. Maybe staying connected is worth all the manipulative stuff I hate? Either way I’ve been having long conversations with a very special friend back home who isn’t going through an easy time. So I guess I can thank Facebook for helping me to get to know her after all these years where we just didn’t for some or another reason! Plus I LOVE the status updates that complain about traffic! Nothing like a little gloat!

Either way I am officially over the 1/4 mark for lizard collecting, not as many as i would have liked by the end of the day today, but considering the fact that I have to trap puny areas or climb to shade, I think I’ve been doing quite well! 

It’s so hot that my thoughts aren’t connecting properly, so I’m going to stop there.

Oh, and my connection here is REALLY bad and for some reason I can’t comment on blogs without either word verifications never popping up or weird error messages :( I AM reading blogs as much as I can though so thanks for giving me something to read while I’m out here! It’s nice to follow the real world a bit!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Crispy around the edges

I know, I know, I promised to keep blogging… (I’m hanging my head sheepishly, just in case you were wondering). And it’s not even like I’ve been swamped here, I’ve been busy, but no more than usual!

Anyway, I drove down on Saturday, and it was the weirdest thing: About halfway to Nelspruit and I got this weird feeling of going-homeness. I suddenly noticed the amazing beauty around me and the weird people driving around me (my personal favourite being the car with the “it’s not PMS, I’m just a bitch” bumper sticker – driven by an ancient man who might have been smoking a pipe – the huge sky, the open fields.

I also had a weird flashback to childhood – my dad used to like annoying me (still does), in my family teasing is the common way to show affection for some reason, and one thing he’d do was to call animals by the wrong names. Maybe it was just the zoologist in me getting started early but it drove me NUTS! Once I got used to it I decided it was ok, as long as we were consistent – so giraffe were always raffe-gee, Kudu were called lions, and so on. And of course whenever we drove past a cow field (which you do a lot in South Africa) we’d have to yell “Elephants!” So when I drove past the Oilfants river and saw a field of cows… it totally made my day!

Randomness aside, I kept driving, through several torrential downpours, and ended up doing some grocery shopping in town on my way through. I knew I was back when I got stuck behind two men in their two-tone khaki and kortbroek (no crocs, apparently rainy days call for veldskoen) having a discussion on ruck-bee in the middle of the canned-food aisle.

I made it to the farmhouse by just after 5 to find that despite the rain, the student and her team who had gone down a day before were nowhere to be seen. They emerged about an hour later triumphantly carrying about 6 lizards – it seems that it had cleared for about half an hour and they were admirably tenacious about catching the lizards that they saw. Two of them were my lizards so I got a nice headstart!

It was weird being there with people when I hadn’t adjusted to being there, and I kind of flitted between wanting to get rid of them and asking them to stay an extra night. Wither way when we woke up the next morning it was raining and so they left and I took a nap. Which lasted for about 6 hours. What can I say, it’s like I’m sleeping in my own bed at last! The insomnia is still there, but it’s down to a ‘it’s 3am, why am I awake? I must sleep… this is so annoying, I need my sle-' and then I’m out until morning stage.

Yesterday was lovely and sunny but not too hot, and I got back into the swing of things until a freak rainstorm chased me off the rocks at lunchtime. I was greeted by a huge eagle on the outcrop when I arrived (it was so close to me!) as well as a black mamba which I think may have been as scared as me. It decided to go under a rock AS I removed my traps, meaning that I looked to see what ‘that weird noise’ was to see it slithering past (about 10 cm from me). I had no idea my heart rate could shoot up so fast! I’ve been a bit jumpy since then, but at least everything is ok.

And today was hot. blisteringly like-being-in-an-oven hot! The worst part is that I know it’s going to get MUCH hotter soon! It was a beautiful day, the sky was that amazing blue that you don’t find anywhere else (other countries have blue skies, but not like ours, kind of like how our oceans are pretty, but in Jersey the sea really sparkled), I saw zebra and kudu on my way to the site, ran into a friendly farmer who (get this) spoke English! and had a pretty successful trapping day.

I got to relearn my climbing a little bit, which was fun! I’m enjoying the new flexibility that I think comes from tai chi and stretching although my endurance is lousy as always. I found a bunch of lizards in an area where I’ve never seen more than one or two, so I’m quite excited – maybe the rains have been as good for the lizards as I’d hoped! There are certainly enough insects around – I’m starting to get a bit offended by the dungbeetles flying into my head! So I’m just hoping that the weather holds out, that the lizards are plentiful (and stupid) and that I stay in the (strange) wonderfully happy mood I’ve been in for the last few days!

Here’s hoping!

Oh and the title refers to my sunburnedness. SPF40 has worked like a charm, but there are a few crispy-fried bits that are going to tan permanently (because they always do!), like my lower back, a small patch on my left wrist my upper lip and tip of nose, a patch just below my right ear and so on.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Leaving town

I've been very fortunate in that one of the masters students has gone
down to my field site to catch some different lizards- she has been
great about sending me a daily weather report- it's raining. A lot. So
I've been able to take my time packing and hanging out with friends
and stuff without the added guilt of missing trapping time!

I'm leaving today anyway, but as it's raining I get to spend an extra
few hours checking that I've got everything, shopping for random
toiletries that I usually forget and have to find in the middle of
nowhere and generally getting going.

Last night I wussed out of some serious goth-clubbing - seems I'm not
so brave without the girls there, plus there were some 'special'
things planned. Call me conservative, but there are some things out
there that I just don't want to know about. And I definitely don't
want to see them and scar my young and innocent psyche...

So I wound up at CG's house, just sitting and talking until I realised
that her house is still in a time-warp because it was almost midnight
and I had to get home and pack!

It was awesome though. I've known her for a long time, but recently
we've become much closer, and I've found that I can be very honest
with her, and she seems to like confiding in me as well. It's
something that I don't often manage with girls, so it's quite a new
experience! I do have it to some degree with La, but she doesn't often
confide in anyone without them pushing her to, so it's nice to just
let someone talk!

So ja, goodbye Joburg, I'll see you in December!

(although I will do my best to keep blogging from the middle of nowhere!)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

No way!

So I didn’t do any exercise between Saturday and yesterday, and felt all icky as a result. To be fair I just haven’t had time – with all the stress lately I’ve been battling to focus and get my work done.

To add to that it seems that people realised that I was leaving soon and we’ve had a steady stream of people in the lab. I would be annoyed but they were all people I wanted to see. And as much as several hours discussing the biological and psychological implications of studying the paranormal/supernatural was probably a giant waste of time, I’m pretty sure that in some small way my life was enriched as a result! I guess it all falls into enjoying the university experience as a whole, rather than being too focussed.

Anyway back on topic, last night after dinner I decided to go off to the gym. It was awesome! I should stop going more often! Basically I cycled and almost died (it seems I can run OR cycle, but developing both sets of muscle just doesn’t happen) and then I figured I’d do a short run, just to give the other muscles a reminder as to their existence. I have also been having really nasty dreams (and insomnia) lately so I figured exhaustion could help my situation somewhat (It didn’t really as I wound up dreaming that I had to put on makeup in an abattoir before going goth clubbing in fieldwork clothes…).

So I ran a little bit and thought ‘hey! this is supposed to be a sprint, why is it so easy?'’ so I ran a little bit faster. And faster. and faster. I was tired, but I kept doing things like wondering if I could do one  more minute, or run at a steeper incline, or actually max out the treadmill speed-wise (almost! I think it maxes out at 15km/h and I was going at 14.2 but that involved sprinting and gasping and stitches after a very little while). and before I’d noticed it I had finished the 20 minute thing and I was all hyped up to run further.

So I did. Admittedly, I was listening to Trivium which is so energetic I had to keep going, but before I knew it I had run about 30 % further than normal!

I think that’s what I love the most about the whole gym thing. Those random moments when you realise that those scary things aren’t so bad after all! Like doing a shoulder-balancey thing in Pilates, or cycling an extra 10 km, or actually doing a pull-up (I almost did one the other day! the friendly body-builders were very supportive!).

And now I must go and pack the big scary 4x4 and get it home before tai chi!

Oh, and this is officially my favourite music video ever (right now!) the song is awesome too!